While accepting the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri on Sunday, Frances McDormand asked all female nominees across categories to stand up in solidarity with women in the industry. As the audience teared up, she concluded her speech with a phrase that left many befuddled. “I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen,” McDormand said. “Inclusion rider.”
After viewers frantically searched for the meaning of the phrase, it was learnt that an inclusion rider is a clause that actors can insist upon in their contract to demand race, gender, sexuality and other diversity in the production, both on screen and among the crew. The term was first introduced by Stacy Smith, a professor and founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California, at a TED Talk in 2016.
“Across the top 100 films of just last year, 48 films didn’t feature one black or African-American speaking character, not one,” Smith said in the talk. “Seventy films were devoid of Asian or Asian-American speaking characters that were girls or women. None. Eighty-four films didn’t feature one female character that had a disability. And 93 were devoid of lesbian, bisexual or transgender female speaking characters. This is not underrepresentation. This is erasure, and I call this the epidemic of invisibility.”
As a solution to this gross underrepresentation, Smith introduced the term inclusion rider: “An equity rider [or an inclusion rider] by an A-lister in their contract can stipulate that those roles reflect the world in which we actually live.”
Speaking to The Guardian, Smith expressed her joy over McDormand’s speech about the clause. “I’m utterly elated,” she told the newspaper. “The real goal is to counter bias in the auditioning and casting process...The goal is that talent can take the inclusion rider and adopt it in ways that make sense for their values and their beliefs.”
McDormand reportedly told the media backstage that she had learnt of the phrase just a week ago. “There has always been available, to everybody that does a negotiation on a film, an inclusion rider, which means that you can ask for and/or demand at least 50 percent diversity in not only the casting but also the crew. The fact that I’ve just learned that after 35 years of being in the film business...we’re not going back.”
Support for McDormand’s rallying call poured in on social media, including from the Twitter handle inspired by her words.